Please enjoy these blogposts, written between 2011 and 2015. Another blog is on the way.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

C words--but not THAT one

Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate
Say you live in a family or work in an institution.  That accounts for most of us.  Within that family or institution certain people are in charge—either because they are paid to be; or they birthed and reared you and expect a little consideration; or they have shown (or until recently concealed) a proclivity for control.  You may not have objected so far. The risk of conflict may have been too great, or up until now you’ve been able to circumvent the person or persons in question. Maybe you're the kind who, before you nod off at night, thinks, What the hell. Surely we can all get along.

If you’re suddenly worried, if one day not too long ago you noticed that you’ve become dangerously passive, how do you know that you’re not overreacting? How do you know that a tiny bit of paranoia isn’t surfacing that has more to do with you than with the person or persons in charge? You can assess your situation by listening for the following words across the kitchen table or in a meeting:

Condone—as in I can’t condone that kind of behavior, often used by a parent pre-emptively in reference to another child.  What the parent means is, don’t ever do that, or you won’t like the consequences.

Comply—often used by physicians: Have you complied with your treatment plan? That is, have you taken your meds today? But equally effective in other situations.

Cooperate—the mother of that lovely sixties noun cooperative. The verb and adjective aren’t as friendly: we trust you will cooperate in this endeavor, and if we all could be just a little more cooperative . . . Now that I think of it, wasn’t there always one person in those sixties food and babysitting coops who managed to squeeze out a little more free time or save a little more money than everyone else?

Concur—This one isn’t used much outside Congressional hearings. But if you hear it—Do you concur?—the apparent dignity with which  you are being addressed may seduce you into betraying a conviction.

Calculate—If your boss plans to calculate the cost of a program you’ve proposed, or your parents suggest that you calculate the true cost of something you need, you can be pretty sure that the numbers aren’t going to work in your favor.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of Vocabulary C, clarify your thoughts, seek counsel (but beware of therapeutic types, who are sometimes in bed with Angela Lansbury), and communicate.  Communicate is a word that can be used for good or evil.  Use it for good.  Be transparent, let go of your anger as soon as you’ve spent it, and don’t conspire to be in charge yourself.

I’m reading Anne Lamott’s latest book, Some Assembly Required, about her new grandson and his 20-year-old father. I’d share an excerpt, but that seems unfair when the book tour is still in progress.  So I’ll borrow some advice from an earlier book, Operating Instructions. Surely her publisher won’t mind that. 

Strive to be “a very gentle person”--as Lamott says she tries and often fails to be but has endeavored to teach her son and readers--and be “militantly on [your] own side.”